My Week in Isham

When i went to check myself in to Isham on May 2, I had obviously already heard about swine flu (or, for those in the pork industry, “H1N1” virus). The media’s feeding frenzy on this issue has caused people across the country and around the world to enter into a vast lockdown, some of it self-prescribed, some of it enforced as quarantine procedures by the government. Even within Andover, we received an email on April 28 from Mrs. Sykes and Dr. Keller recommending, among other measures, that we “reduce unnecessary social contact” to help avoid the spread of this disease. I had witnessed this paranoia seeping all the way through to our community, but when I checked myself into Isham because I suspected that I had a fever, the thought did not even cross my mind that I would soon become trapped in the tugging undertow of this absurdity. It didn’t surprise me at all that I was sick—I suffer from allergies each year as spring takes hold, and in fact I had come down with a similar fever precisely a year before (the weekend of the Deerfield debate). I got to Isham at around 7 p.m. that Saturday, and I went upstairs to have my temperature taken. The thermometer read 100.4, a low-grade fever. In fact, it was .1 degrees below the marker of when a student has to stay the night in Isham under most circumstances. When I looked back over at the nurse who was helping me, she had already begun to snap on a pair of thick blue gloves and a mask that smacked of 28 Days Later. I had a fever until Sunday night. It relapsed almost unnoticeably to a bit above 98.6 degrees on Monday, but the real throes of my illness had gone away less than 24 hours after I was admitted to Isham. Until Monday, I had been told that I would be released on Monday afternoon after class let out; however, an increase in cases of swine flu over the weekend caused the Massachusetts Department of Health to issue a mandate stating that anyone with the symptoms of swine flu (fever, congestion, coughing, etc.) would need to be kept in isolation for one week after the onset of symptoms or until 24 hours with no symptoms, whichever was longer. When I heard this and processed it I couldn’t stop laughing. Sure, my hysterics were probably (definitely) spurred by a touch of mania, but I found it comical. I was going to be held until Thursday, since I told the nurse that I started feeling under the weather on the Thursday of the previous week (as in, the onset of my allergies). The only way I could leave was if my parents were to drive up, get me and bring me home—I would then be under their legal jurisdiction, and they would not be bound as the school was to keep me isolated. They both had inescapable commitments at home, so I was stuck—and I already hadn’t been sick for an entire day. So essentially a healthy person had to stay inside all day watching TV (the one channel that worked—I could probably rattle off the whole list of Channel 7 newscasters as well as the last ten contestants on Deal or No Deal) as opposed to going to class and living a normal life. Not only that, but each time a nurse or Dr. Keller came in to check on me or bring me food, they were decked out in a full quarantine outfit—mask, gloves, and to top it off a fluorescent yellow robe, again at the direction of the Department of Health. If I left the room to take a shower I had to wear the mask—if I hoped to use the computer in the hallway, the whole shebang. I was told that my friends could visit, but for some reason or another they were turned away each time (once because the nurse said she was too busy, though I certainly wasn’t, and once because there were too many of them at once). To be fair, I was allowed to take one trip outside on Wednesday afternoon, though I was instructed to stay at least six feet away from any person. Other than that, I did not go outside once during the period of Saturday to Thursday. Not only was this affair a massive nuisance as I had to miss my classes, but it was also truly lonely and completely dehumanizing—certainly at some level a violation of my most basic human rights. I do not put the blame for this on anyone in Isham or the Phillips Academy administration—they were bound by law to act as they did. Rather, I would like to present my case as a cry out against the way that local and national governments have been reacting to this so-called pandemic. Making blanket procedures as to how to act in any case of potential sickness should be a step that is only taken in the face of a hugely destructive and dangerous virus proven to be lethal and highly contagious, not just a disease barely differentiable from seasonal flu, and whose symptoms can overlap this easily with those of allergies. A state-wide quarantine for anyone with a fever is not an appropriate reaction to this relatively minor disease outbreak that has been wildly blown out of proportion. That is why we have a doctor on campus—to evaluate each case individually and make an educated decision based on actual examination, not a vague description of symptoms, and according to Dr. Keller, the Department of Health has since relaxed its guidelines. I do not and did not have swine flu, or even the regular flu, and since these regulations have been passed I am sure that many others have found themselves in a similar situation. Across the world, Mexican visitors with mild sickness, a common symptom of travel, are being held against their wills in quarantine in China. The global paranoia about this needs to die down so that people can go back to living regular, comfortable lives. Ben Podell is a two-year Lower from New York, NY. He is Copy Editor for The Phillipian.